I was lucky enough to get to chat with uber-talented Brooklyn-based designer Toni Hacker of Hayden Harnett in her studio recently. Hacker, who runs the inventively stylish Hayden-Harnett with her boyfriend Ben Harnett, has gone from selling canvas bags on consignment in NYC to wholesaling her and Harnett’s luxury leather line, featuring custom-molded hardware, unique leathers, and exclusive print lining, to some of the finest boutique stores in the world.
Recently the duo have added apparel and come Holiday ’08 boots will be added, with a full range of footwear and swimwear to come Spring ’09. Hacker and Harnett have succeeded in combining their quirky sensibilities, their shared passion for design, quality, function, and travel to produce pieces that are refreshingly affordable given their design and quality.
Best of all, the duo have never lost their rock n’ roll spirit. Both can often be spotted at their Greenpoint boutique which is truly a must-stop for unique handbag, apparel, and accessory finds. And, lest we forget, coming to Target stores in late December, is the limited edition Hayden-Harnett collectible line.
Q: How did you get your start in the fashion industry?
A: After college, I took my first "real" job in Knoxville, TN doing product design for a range of commercial interior and financial clients. After a year, I started to feel a little stale as a designer and was looking for more of a challenge…something that would utilize my fine arts background and love for fashion. I posted my resume on headhunter.com and this great lady, Pat Anderson of Innovo Inc, contacted me about designing bags and accessories for her private label company. We met, it was a great fit, and I was there for five years as their design director. That’s how I got into fashion.
Q: What inspired you to open your own boutique?
A: We needed the space for the design office desperately after the business started to take off and I wanted to present our brand in an environment that really reflected the aesthetic of Hayden-Harnett. We found our Greenpoint Design:Shop studio/store space after walking past the space for years…long before we even thought of starting our own line.
One weekend, on our way to brunch, Ben and I walked past and a ‘for rent ‘ sign was in the window…so we called immediately. I’d always planned to take 211 Franklin and do something creative with the space if it ever became available. It was true serendipity that it happened just as I really needed to find a studio space and felt we could manage a store.
Q: Do you still sell in boutiques other than your own?
A: Yes…we really have great relationships with our small retailers. Jirisuda and Blue Bag on Elizabeth Street (Manhattan) carry the bags, outerwear, and apparel. Searle has carried us since the beginning (thanks!) in every store. We sell all across the U.S. and have just started to really sell on the west coast (Bettina Duncan at Fred Segal and Ten Over Six). Globally we sell in Japan, Russia, Singapore, Europe, and at Holt Renfrew in Canada.
Q: Where did the name Hayden-Harnett come from?
A: On the morning of April Fool’s Day, 2005, Ben and I woke up to make breakfast and I joked that we should just start our own line…I sketched the two h’s inside the circle and the logo was born. I didn’t like the sound of Hacker-Harnett, so I changed my H to Hayden…I liked the idea of designing around an alter-ego. A stylish girl who travels extensively and needs to look fantastic always, but never too flashy or over the top. Classic with a unique creative bohemian edge….that’s the Hayden-Harnett aesthetic.
Q: Any challenges in working with your husband?
A: No…actually, we’ve never had any problems (but that must not be the norm!). I could never imagine starting a line without Ben. He’s the Tracy to my Hepburn…the vanilla to my sprinkles. We really complement each other on all levels and we’re big believers in compromise.
Q: How many people are on your team?
A: On my design staff, I now have four amazing ladies that I cannot imagine being without…Madeleine Eayrs (art direction), Jinhee Joe (production manager), Laurel Wells (apparel design), and Joanne Lee (handbag design). I’m really focused on the creative direction, shoe design, and marketing/press and we have a great team that allows us to do so much as such a small company. We can do anything…that’s our attitude. If we’re feeling it, then we design it. That’s the nice thing about being independent.
Q: How would you describe your boutique?
A: Quirky, creative, and somehow vintage and modern with a slight macabre streak. I wanted the design:shop to feel like the attic in a kooky 70’s librarian’s house…maybe the librarian was a little obsessed with the Masons, owls, wood, and ylang-ylang. The space is well-loved and we have so much fun at work…I think people feel the vibe when they come in. It’s definitely a neighborly kind of situation.
Q: How did you pick the location?
A: I’ve wanted to be in this space since I started dating Ben five years ago. I always knew that 211 Franklin and I were destined to be together.
Q: Are you planning on opening any other shops?
A: Yes. Absolutely. A store is a fantastic way to really let people into your secret world…I love designing retail spaces.
Q: How would you describe your clientele?
A: Stylish, intelligent, creative, and smart…they know a good thing when they find it.
Q: What are some of your staple accessories/apparel items?
A: Bags: Havana hobo, Lorca turnlock, and Ibiza convertible flight bag….these are three styles that we started with and are still our top three sellers.
Apparel: Kristi trench, our Wrap dress, and our leather jackets are fantastic (and a good deal).
Shoes: Zelda zipper boot, Madeleine riding boot, Laurel flat
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration?
A: Everywhere, literally. I find a lot of inspiration in art, movies, and music…I’ll design an entire collection around a song or scene from a movie. It’s all about capturing the je ne sais quoi of a particular moment or phrase and channeling it into the collection.
Our shoes have quite a bit of My Morning Jacket, Stereo Total. and The Rolling Stones in them…
Q: You also carry other designer’s jewelry in your boutique. How to you pick whose pieces you are going to carry?
A: I look for really unique pieces each season that complement the collection. I love metal and jewelry, so I’m always looking around for new ideas and items. If I don’t find what I’m looking for, then I commission pieces through a local artist. For Fall ’08 we carry Digby & Iona, and some custom "lightning" horn and onyx pieces from Sparc, made exclusively for the design:shop. We also carry jewelry by Mifflin (Staci Leatherland) and leather feather earrings from Lash’N’Lapelle are well featured also.
Q: I read that Hayden-Harnett was tapped to do an accessories line for Spring 2009 for Target. Is that still happening?
A: Yes…it’s official and we’re really excited about the collection!
Q: How did that come about? When is the line hitting? Can you give us any insight into the collection? How will the line compare to your house collection?
A: Can’t say much here as I don’t want to ruin any surprises, but the line hits stores on 12/28/08 through 3/15/09. There’s a great print we did exclusively for Target and also an umbrella (our one and only). The Hayden-Harnett for Target collection offers unique and collectible items for our fans and for newcomers to the line…each piece is very unique, stylish, and functional.
Q: I noticed that you also sell online. What do you think about online shopping versus shopping in a boutique?
A: I LOVE online shopping and really think it’s a way of life for busy women. We pay just as much attention to our online boutique and customers as our brick and mortar clients. Myself, seriously, I order nearly everything online and have it shipped to the office.
Q: What can we expect from Hayden-Harnett for Spring 2009?
A: A whole lotta love in the form of our Muse collection…100% inspired by the 1981 movie Xanadu and Olivia Newton-John’s character, Kira, a roller skating muse with a penchant for ruffles, silk, and off-the-shoulder blouson tops and dresses. The color and shapes are very feminine, yet modern. The shoes are killer, and the bags heavenly.
Images courtesy of Hayden-Hartnett. The website is at www.haydenharnett.com.